Does Comedy Central Have Any Principles?Comedy Features Comedy Central
This week Comedy Central made two profoundly tone-deaf releases in as many days: first, a trailer for Jeff Ross’s new special, Jeff Ross Roasts the Border; second, a Broad City-themed browser extension, “Trump-No-More,” which censors the word “Trump” wherever it may appear. Separately these items range from embarrassing to deeply racist. Together they paint a picture of a network utterly devoid of principle, grasping for relevance with all the grace of, well, a Comedy Central roast and a Broad City-themed browser extension. Let’s take them in turn.
In Jeff Ross Roasts the Border: Live from Brownsville, Texas, the Roastmaster General travels from Brownsville to Matamoros, Mexico for an hour of documentary and stand-up. “This provocative and compelling comedy special takes Ross on a journey where he meets everyone,” reads Comedy Central’s press release on the special, “from undocumented immigrants, law enforcement agents, DREAMers, ‘coyotes,’ and Trump supporters—even coming across a pregnant woman fleeing the violence in El Salvador, stopped at the U.S. border after crossing the Rio Grande river in a raft.” To what end? Why, to roast them all, of course, and so Ross can learn that “everyone has something at stake when it comes to immigration, and his high school Spanish isn’t as good as he thought it was.”
It’s a dumb concept preoccupied with lazy both-sidesism—it’s particularly galling to put “law enforcement agents” on the same plane as a woman fleeing violence—and anchored by someone who obviously has no new insight to contribute. That much is evident from the title, let alone a press release. It’s the trailer that truly reveals not only Ross’s incompetence, but his grotesque lack of empathy for the people he’s supposedly trying to understand. Here’s the first joke it shows us from his Brownsville set: “I heard yesterday they deported an 8-year-old Guatemalan girl and her three kids.” The trailer provides no context, so I cannot tell you whether this is a setup or a punchline or one beat in a series of more complex thoughts. What I can tell you is this: Ross says it and we hear an audience’s laughter. They laugh! They laugh at the repeated rape of a child and her presumed return to the conditions that brutalized her. What is funny about this, the rape or the state violence or the not-so-subtle dehumanization of brown people? Don’t @ me with your answer.
It doesn’t get worse than that rape joke but it doesn’t get better. Here’s another punchline in the trailer: “People think United Airlines treats their passengers bad. They’re never gonna shove a poke up your ass and stuff you in the overhead compartment for three weeks!” And another: “21 billion to build a wall right here… but on the bright side, the Olympic Mexican pole vaulting team is number one in the world right now.” And, hey, a third: “I went on Tinder and I swiped with somebody on the other side of the wall. That’s the biggest cock-block in history!” And here’s just a little taste of his crowd work, at the end of the trailer, as he fist-bumps a larger gentleman in the front row: “Damn, this guy—what are you celebrating, Cinco de Mayonnaise?”
Who is this for? I can’t imagine Comedy Central is expecting all that many immigrants to tune in. That leaves pretty exclusively people who don’t have any stake in the issue, people who can comfortably delight in Ross’s facile take on the systemic human rights violations our country is committing every day. If you ask me, it’s very cool and normal of Comedy Central to target that crowd.
It’s even cooler and more normal for Comedy Central to complement its programming for racists with bold promotional tie-ins for the Hashtag Resistance. Yesterday the network announced “Trump-No-More,” a browser extension available on Broad City’s website that converts “each and every text mention of Trump to Tr**p.” Wow! A whole extension, huh?! Look, I don’t really care that Broad City made a big thing out of bleeping out Trump’s name in the show; to each their own coping mechanisms. But there’s something gross about inviting your audience to participate in your vaguely self-congratulatory act of resistance-less resistance in a manner so bland and corporate that it’s obviously PR. It reminds me of the Daily Show’s Presidential Twitter Library, in that it had the overwhelming feel of a bunch of people at a conference table tossing ideas at each other and settling on the second or third. It doesn’t say anything, it just reminds you that you’re on the right side.
Which is a fine thing to remind yourself! It’s just rich coming from the same network as Jeff Ross Roasts Immigration, a special that—based on its promotional materials—caters to Trump supporters and participates in the vile work of dehumanizing immigrants. The Trump Administration is already doing that work. If you want to do it for them, so be it—we’ll adjust our expectations accordingly. But if you want your lineup of ostensibly liberal programming to have any authenticity—if you want us to think they represent anything more than the desire to capture a certain demographic—you’d better lose the chaff, and quick.
Seth Simons is Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Follow him on Twitter.